Undergraduate Program


The Biology Department faculty voted to certify completion of the major for seniors graduating in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 if they have a completed at least one upper-level lab course (beyond Bio 203L) or approved Research Independent Study, rather than a minimum of two as specified in the Bulletin of Undergraduate Instruction. Please note that this revision is only for the lab requirement - all other requirements for the major are still in force. Note also that it applies only to this year’s seniors, as an accommodation to the circumstances of the Fall. Finally, note that this only applies to the requirements of the Biology major at Duke. Please consult with your HPA advisor if you have questions regarding health professions requirements. 

Our overall goal is to expand and strengthen training opportunities for undergraduates at the cutting edge of our discipline. Our undergraduate education produces young scientists and citizens who understand the scope and perspective of modern biology. We support undergraduate scholarly endeavors, train students for an array of careers in research and related professional fields, and communicate the impact and significance of biology to an array of students. We offer a broad range of learning opportunities, including traditional classroom experiences, hands-on experiences in the field and the laboratory, independent study, and full student engagement in research.

As a biology major, your career goals may include biological research, health professions, business, or education. Students who are interested in health professions have access to additional information and advice through the Trinity College Office of Health Professions Advising. Duke students applying to medical schools and other health professions programs have enjoyed a very high acceptance rate.  Those who have pursued graduate school have gone on to become highly successful biological researchers and educators at many universities throughout the world.

As a student, you will receive excellent preparation for advanced work in the sciences, for professional careers in health, law, and policy, and for good citizenship in a society increasingly affected by and dependent on modern science and technology. 

The specific learning outcomes of the undergraduate program include the following:

  1. Thinking like a biologist:  Biology is a broad discipline that deals with complex systems ranging in scale from molecules to ecosystems.  You will develop a sophisticated appreciation of the nature of living organisms and biological processes, and be able to describe how biologists approach research questions within our field. You can accomplish this goal through two gateway courses, Biology through the Lens of Molecular Biology (Biology 201L) and Biology Through the Lenses of Genetics and Evolution (Biology 202L).
  2. Describing the breadth of the discipline:  Biology is a broad discipline, and therefore we expect you to acquire a foundation across the levels and subdisciplines within our field.  To this end, biology majors will complete at least one course within each of three core areas—Organismal Diversity, Structure and Function, and Ecology.  Within the Organismal Diversity area, you can explain how diversity evolved; within the Structure/Function area, you will understand the relationship between the structure and the function of cells and organisms; and within the Ecology area, you will know how biological organisms interact with their environments. 
  3. Using the tools and methods of modern biological research:  Biology is both an empirical and theoretical science and we seek to engage you directly in biological research. Thus, as a biology major you are expected to be able to use the tools and methods of modern research. To achieve this goal, you will take two laboratory-based gateway courses plus at least two laboratory-based courses at the advanced level. We also encourage you to engage in independent study in a biological science research laboratory.
  4. Synthesizing a range of biological concepts and ideas:  Biological research has made enormous progress in our understanding of the natural world, but is still confronted with major challenges.  Therefore, we want you to engage in in-depth exploration of specific fields, current ways of thinking, new discoveries, and methodologies of the discipline. All biology majors will take at least one ‘capstone’ course that builds on the core curriculum and requires undergraduates to explore disciplinary scholarship at the graduate level.
  5. Developing critical thinking skills:  Because biology is not just a collection of facts, but rather a way of knowing, we expect you to develop analytical and critical thinking skills, including hypothesis generation and testing. To this end, you will be expected to write essays and critical analyses for course examinations. You may participate in open-ended project courses, as well as research experiences.
  6. Communicating effectively, both orally and in writing:  Biology is a highly collaborative field, and therefore we expect our majors to develop high-level writing and oral communication skills. You will have the opportunity to take special ‘writing-intensive’ and thesis preparation courses focused on the art and craft of scientific writing. In these courses, you will present research findings in poster symposia or in small seminar courses.